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AUGUST 10, 2016 – PERRYOPOLIS, PA: As some of you are aware, the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority and the Perryopolis Area Heritage Society have recently entered into a disagreement over the use and care of the town’s Harry Sampey Park. Over the last 13 years the park has been the location of the annual Civil War reenactment hosted by the Birney’s Division Civil War reenacting organization, and in 2016 it was also used as the site for the West Virginia-style Tactical, a joint project between Birney’s Division and the Army of Northern Virginia reenacting organization. Yesterday, the Parks and Recreation Authority held a closed-door meeting, and in a three to one vote finally determined that there would be no more Pioneer Days or Civil War events held at Sampey Park.
This past Monday, Michael Maffei (President of Birney’s Division, Inc.) spoke at the Perryopolis city-wide meeting outlining the history of the Civil War event and the use of the park. Members of Birney’s Division have worked with the Heritage Society to develop the Civil War event and improve the site using thousands of hours of their own time and donated materials. This includes cleaning up the park and constructing full-scale functional period buildings which were approved by the Heritage Society. Over 13 years, hundreds of reenactors have participated in the annual Civil War event bringing thousands of visitors to the site and money into the local economy. All of the work was done by members of Birney’s Division and friends. Money brought into the event from reenactor registration and spectator tickets was turned over each year to the Perryopolis Area Heritage Society which amounted to many thousands of dollars. When not being used for the reenactment, the park and buildings constructed by the reenactors are used for a variety of activities including Boy Scout and Girl Scout events, as well as fire fighter training. The “Civil War” area of the park is also popular with joggers, dog walkers, and other town residence that are looking for a quiet place to enjoy the scenery.
Along with Michael Maffei, many Perryopolis residence made a strong argument that the park should continue to be used for the annual Civil War events even if the long-failing Pioneer Days event was terminated. This would continue to bring visitors into the town and help the financially strapped Heritage Society. The argument has previously been made that the site is not known for Civil War history but more for the grist mill commissioned by George Washington between 1774 and 1776. Though the town never saw an engagement between Union and Confederate troops, hundreds of men from Perryopolis enlisted in the Army starting in 1861 and the town’s train station was a major waypoint for Civil War veterans traveling to the 50th Gettysburg Reunion in 1913. It was pointed out that other historical venues such as Hale Farm & Village in Ohio, Old Bedford Village in Pennsylvania, and Mumford Village in New York were not the sites of Civil War battles, but these museums include Civil War activities as part of their dedication to honor the men who fought and provide valuable education to the public. Other than a few times a year, the Washington Grist Mill sits behind a locked fence and does not feature any organized educational programming. Much of the original structure has long since disappeared other than the foundation.
“A few self-appointed individuals have closed the history books on our Civil War veterans and deprived the public the opportunity to learn more about the history of our country”, said Maffei. Some of the residence attending the meeting also speculated that the park is in reality being eyed to expand the high-end housing development that has been continually encroaching on the site. The period buildings will be torn down and the park scrapped away. Perryopolis sits near the Pennsylvania Turnpike and is an easy commute to business and industry centers. Town officials could not be reached for comment.
In spite of this sad news, Birney’s Division and its fellow reenacting organizations will refocus their efforts on two other Civil War events in the geographic area. Beaver Creek in East Liverpool, Ohio on September 10-11, 2016 (www.beavercreekcivilwar.com and www.facebook.com/BeaverCreekCivilWar) which is held near the site of the capture of Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan, and next year’s annual June reenactment at Old Bedford Village (www.facebook.com/OldBedfordCivilWar) which is one of the largest Civil War reenactments in Pennsylvania.
For more information, go to www.BirneysDivision.org.